The Reckoningby Published 23 Oct 2018
John Grisham returns to Clanton, Mississippi, to tell the story of an unthinkable murder, the bizarre trial that follows it, and its profound and lasting effect on the people of Ford County.
Pete Banning was Clanton's favorite son, a returning war hero, the patriarch of a prominent family, a farmer, father, neighbor, and a faithful member of the Methodist church. Then one cool October morning in 1946. he rose early, drove into town, walked into the Church, and calmly shot and killed the Reverend Dexter Bell. As if the murder wasn't shocking enough, it was even more baffling that Pete's only statement about it—to the sheriff, to his defense attorney, to the judge, to his family and friends, and to the people of Clanton—was "I have nothing to say." And so the murder of the esteemed Reverend Bell became the most mysterious and unforgettable crime Ford County had ever known.
The Reckoning Reviews
Far From One of Grisham's Best: I typically enjoy anything by Grisham and rate them in the 4 star range most always. The Reckoning fell well short of what I would expect from Grisham. Most disappointing was that at about 30% of the book reads like an historical fiction account of World War II battles and not something I expected from a read of the book jacket - or a typical Grisham novel. While there is legal challenge and courtroom storyline- this part of the story had little drama, no surprises and an ending to the legal challenge that was obvious from the beginning. Was hoping for a plot twist somewhere to redeem the book, but it never came. This seems like a story that Grisham just put out to meet a publisher's deadline as readers like myself expect more. A few nagging elements also including the fact that the son and daughter in the story refer throughout to their father and mother by first name- Pete and Liza- which seemed odd and out of place with the time and setting for this story. Even if you are diehard Grisham fan, believe you can pass on this one without feeling you have missed anything.
This did not work for me. It started out pretty interesting but died a quick death. It was just too long, dull, and depressing. The war flashbacks bored me to tears and I didn't understand why they were even included in the story. Don't go into this expecting some big twist at the end. Or even a big eye opening moment. It never comes. I didn't finish this book thinking "I totally understand why he killed that man." Which was very frustrating.
4.5 to 5 stars
This was the most epic and intricate novel Grisham has released in quite some time. It's a mixture of legal drama and historical fiction that keeps you guessing until the very last page. Most of his recent books have been fairly quick reads with a basic storyline. The Reckoning is anything but basic or quick.
If you are into Grisham mainly for his legal dramas, I think the historical fiction may distract you too much. If you are really into historical fiction, you may not be patient enough to get through the legal stuff to get to the World War II story. But, if you are a fan of both, you will get the best of both worlds; the first third is legal, the second third historical, and the last 3rd brings it all together.
Note on the content: the story takes place during and post WWII with narrative taking place in both the American South and the Pacific Theater. Grisham wrote it to keep true to the attitudes and the dialogue of the time period. This means that some words and opinions are controversial and could be upsetting. If you are okay with prose content being raw for the sake of realism, you should be fine. But, if you think this might make you uncomfortable, approach with caution.
This was an enthralling reading experience and one of the best I have had with Grisham. It's great, unique storytelling that I believe lots of book fans will enjoy.
417 pages. Four HUNDRED and seventeen pages. For a story that could have been told...in fact SHOULD have been told...in about 250, and that is being generous. I liken this novel to a trip I once took with my parents when I was a child. We drove from Pennsylvania to Florida to visit my grandparents. Along the way, my father thought he had some moral obligation to pay homage to every roadside attraction within 50 miles of our route. It was torture. So was this book. Every time Grisham seemed to return to the actual plot and gain momentum, another shiny object would grab his attention and send him racing in the opposite direction. It was maddening.
Fans of historic fiction will appreciate the prolonged and painfully detailed descriptions of the main character’s military experiences in WWII. Folks who thought they were buying the story billed in the summary will not. Seriously. Page after page after page about an American soldier captured by the Japanese, who then escapes and joins guerrilla fighters. Pages that added NOTHING in the way of furthering the plot.
I had other issues with this novel as well. The theme of segregation in the Deep South took such center stage that to miss the significance and not predict the outcome was virtually impossible. Additionally, the entire book alludes to a justifiable vengeance. In the end, it was, however, such an overreaction that every bit of sympathy, or sense of likability, I had built for the main character dissolved.
Clearly Grisham can write. He is an accomplished author with a huge and loyal fan base. Why he veered so far off the beaten path on this one is the true mystery. Two stars just because the writing was sound, but what a profound disappointment.
The latest novel by John Grisham, The Reckoning (release date October 23), is a sprawling and enthralling read set in the Ford County of A Time to Kill, Sycamore Row, etc. By setting this story of murder and Gothic-esque family drama in the county most familiar to longtime Grisham readers, The Reckoning mixes the pleasures of familiarity with the new, experimental territory upon which the writer embarks. If anything, this novel is certainly not Grisham on auto-pilot.
This will likely be the most divisive Grisham release in some time, if ever. The author playfully mixes up and challenges the courtroom drama standard he set, choosing to tell the story in an almost non-linear fashion. At the heart of this novel is the question: What makes a beloved war hero and successful small-town sharecropper murder his pastor in cold blood? The consequences set in motion by the murder — which happens in the first chapter, and is mentioned in the synopsis — are gritty and cold and real. Grisham’s focus is not so much the legal system (though it does play a part), but the dissolving of two American families.
This reader respects Grisham for shaking things up and penning what could be the darkest, and most literary, novel of his career. I certainly did not see it coming. If 2017’s The Rooster Bar was a slick crowd pleaser, The Reckoning is a raw challenge . . . one of which William Faulkner, perhaps, would be a fan.
Thanks to Doubleday Books for the free hardcover copy of this book, which was given in exchange for an honest review.